Obituary: Martin Kosleck

Nikolai Yoshkin (Martin Kosleck), actor: born Barkotzen, Pomerania 24 March 1907; married Eleonore von Mendelssohn; died Santa Monica, California 16 January 1994.

'THE MAN You Love to Hate' - if the phrase had not been coined to describe Erich Von Stroheim's portrayal of the brutal Hun of the First World War, then surely it would have been applied to Martin Kosleck, Hollywood's nastiest Nazi of the Second World War. Could any other actor have portrayed Joseph Goebbels, Hitler's Minister of Propaganda, no fewer than five times, and still come up sneering?

Kosleck was born Nikolai Yoshkin in Pomerania, in 1907, moving to Germany as a young man and and training as an actor in Max Reinhardt's dramatic school in Berlin. He appeared in several films, including Napoleon auf St Helena and the science-fiction thriller Alraune (1930). He fled to the United States in 1931, and two years later was in Hollywood making Fashions of 1934. When more film work failed to come his way, he returned to New York and the stage.

It was while Kosleck was acting in The Merchant of Venice that a fellow Russian, Anatole Litvak, saw him and invited him to Hollywood for a role in a film he was then preparing for Warner Brothers. The Confessions of a Nazi Spy (1939)set the seal on Kosleck's cinematic career. Extremely daring for an American company of the time (two years before the US entered the war), the star-studded production (Edward G. Robinson, Francis Lederer, Paul Lukas, George Sanders) was based on The Nazi Spy Conspiracy in America, a book by Leon Turron, a G-Man who uncovered the network of Nazi organisations throughout the United States. Kosleck, in a small role, revealed a sinister streak of evil that would sustain him through movie after movie.

Kosleck's roles were both supporting and leading, according to budget. In 'A' films he would slither through a scene or two, his hooded eyes as cold as ice, giving audiences a real thrill of fear. In 'B' movies he would be a sinister surgeon, a deranged doctor, once, even, a Surrealist sculptor. This latter role fitted well with his other profession in real life. When he was not busy on screen he worked as an Impressionist-style portrait-painter. Bette Davis and Marlene Dietrich were both painted by Kosleck.

But it was his impression of Goebbels that will remain in the memories of movie-goers, especially in Paramount's impressive pseudo-documentary The Hitler Gang (1944). Kosleck received fourth billing in the cast-list. The production was by BG DeSylva, Buddy of the trio DeSylva, Brown and Henderson, songwriters to the lighter side of stage and screen. Although The Hitler Gang was promoted in the usual Hollywood way - 'The Greatest Gangster Picture of Them All]' - it was a solid, sincere work with none of the overplaying that could have reduced the facts to burlesque, a fault with so many wartime films. Bobby Watson who had played the Fuhrer for laughs in a pair of Hal Roach comedies, including The Devil With Hitler (1942), gave the straight performance of his lifetime, somewhat spoiling his career as a screen comedian. The rest of Hitler's 'gang' were played by minor actors who all gave of their finest: Alexander Pope as Goering; Victor Varconi as Hess; Luis Van Rooten as Himmler; Alexander Granach as Streicher. It is unfortunate that the film, directed by John Farrow, was considered unsuitable for reissue. It has only recently turned up on Channel 4.

Kosleck, now typed as a Nazi, added his sinister presence to dozens of films, including Espionage Agent, Underground, Berlin Correspondent, Bomber's Moon and Chetniks: the fighting guerrillas. Came victory and he moved into grade 'B' horrors such as The Frozen Ghost, She-Wolf of London, The Mummy's Curse and House of Horrors. This gave him his best-remembered role beyond Goebbels, as an insane sculptor who pulls a monster out of the bay and wins fame with the horrid busts he carves from the creature's distorted face.

The sharp decline in war films and cheap horror pictures saw the virtual end of Kosleck's career, and he returned to Manhattan with his wife, the actress Eleonore von Mendelssohn. In New York he did a little radio work, some television, and 'came back' in a few cheap films. In 1975, interviewed for Who's Who in Hollywood, he told of a book he was then translating from the German original, written by his sister. 'It is a story of love for all the kindred animals, pets or wild ones, amongst whom she lives,' he said, once again giving the lie to the old suspicion that the actor is his role.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn